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Wilson Foundation gives $5 million for STEM programs

Another week, another $5 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The Wilson Foundation on Monday announced the latest millions headed to the Buffalo area, this time for after-school and summer STEM programs – science, technology, engineering and math.

The foundation will award as many as 20 grants of $250,000 each for a total of $5 million. Half will go to STEM programs in the Buffalo region, the other half for programs in Southeast Michigan.

It’s the second major grant announced by the foundation this year – both coming within the past two weeks.

The first was $10 million – $5 million for the Buffalo region, $5 million for the Detroit area – to build small, innovative play spaces, custom-designed playgrounds and skate parks.

Wilson Foundation devotes $5 million to WNY for unconventional play spaces

Its “STEM 2035” initiative, meanwhile, falls under the foundation’s focus on after-school programs to help kids in grades 6 to 12 who struggle with these areas of study, said Amber Slichta, vice president of programs for the Wilson Foundation.

“The types of projects that kids encounter in after-school STEM programs help build teamwork, problem solving and communication skills, which are the kinds of skills that our fast-changing modern society needs,” Slichta said in a prepared statement.

Part of the goal with STEM 2035 is to encourage more interest among girls and minorities to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“To prepare the next generation of work force, we not only need to close the gaps in STEM knowledge, but we also need to close the gaps that keep under-represented youth from pursuing their interests in STEM subjects,” Slichta said.

The Wilson Foundation has partnered with CCNY Inc. of Buffalo to help administer the grant proposals and oversee the project. PEAR Institute at Harvard, which has an expertise in after-school STEM programs, will provide technical assistance and support for the organizations awarded a grant. Equal Measure, a Philadelphia-based consultant, will serve as evaluator.

Eligible organizations have until April 13 to fill out an application, which can be found at comconnectionsny.com/STEM. Those awarded grants will be notified in July.

“Once grantees are selected they will actually meet together in Buffalo or Detroit,” Slichta said. “We’re looking for those opportunities for the two regions to learn from each other. This is the first time we’ll be trying that out to create new relationships they would otherwise not have an opportunity to develop.”

Wilson died in 2014, and his foundation is in the midst of giving away a significant share of his estate to improve the quality of life for people in greater Buffalo, where he owned the Buffalo Bills for 54 years, and his hometown of Detroit.

Grants totaling $1.2 billion will be distributed over 20 years, ending in 2035.

STEM 2035 is the second large grant the foundation has announced in 2018, Slichta said.

But as the foundation continues to develop, the community can expect to see more of these big announcements, Slichta said.

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